I’ve not been happy with Tom Clancy as of late. With the last game I’d played based on his writings being the awful 3DS launch title, Splinter Cell 3D, I was starting to lose faith in the brand name. Then I put the Shadow Wars cartridge in my 3DS and all was forgiven. The curious direction in terms of strategy and presentation was instantly refreshing and a deep and rewarding portable experience awaited me in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars.
The game is set in Kazakstahn and sees the the Ghost Recon squad dealing with a threat from local bandits. Soon a Russian plot to restore the USSR as a great superpower comes to the fore, with only the Ghosts standing in the way of despotism. Sound familiar? That’s probably because it is. Almost all plots in gaming can now be boiled down to some form of middle eastern nation in turmoil, leading to a fictitious dictator clamouring for world domination. Shadow Wars shamelessly fits into this mould and, whilst the story is presented well enough, it is largely predictable and uninspired. The characters are of a similar vein, adhering to some rather painful stereotypes at times. The cool and detached leader, the loner marksman, the mysterious foreign operative. You even have the heavy weapons wielding black guy with a hankering for some action. The generic character archetypes come thick and fast, and will seem fairly drab to the enlightened gamer. Thankfully, what they lack in subtlety, they make up for in vivacity. Indeed, the cast of Shadow Wars give the game a vibrancy that many other Tom Clancy titles lack.
The pleasing and vibrant nature of Shadow Wars is also present in the game’s visuals. It has a colourful and cartoon like style to it that is an instantly appealing departure from the mainstay of the Tom Clancy titles. The soundtrack too is more prominent that the usually sparse arrangements we’ve become accustomed to. Just to ease the suspense early, you’ll also be pleased to know that the 3D effects are good. They aren’t the most in your face stereoscopic effects of the 3DS launch line-up, but they give an added sense of depth that helps bring the game’s strategy to life.
The strategy of the game plays out turn by turn with each map being divided into a grid. Your party usually comprises the six members of the Ghost squad, but sometimes stragglers join the team under your command where the story dictates it. Units are divided in their use based on class, ranging from long range snipers, to medics, with tech guys and close range gunners thrown in for good measure. Each class also has a choice of secondary weapons that you can use, with all weapon types being useful at different ranges and often possessing their own unique properties of cover negation and return fire. The game maps also provide differing types of cover, with buildings, shrubs and hills all having their own uses. The maps are well designed and fun to play through, but the whole “middle eastern desert landscape” thing gets a little old after a while. A win in terms of gameplay, if not in terms of presentation.
All this talk of cover and weapon attributes all sounds a little bit confusing when thrown at you all at once. Thankfully, Shadow Wars has a well structured campaign that breaks you in gently. As the levels progress, you’re slowly introduced to each subsequent member of the Ghost squad and their varying strengths and weaknesses. As you complete your objectives you are awarded stars that can be allocated to your party at the end of each mission, granting them health upgrades and new abilities. It’s a good system that gives the game a sense of progression, but it is very limited. Whilst the upgrades and new weapons and abilities are decent and varied, each character has a linear path of progression, meaning your only choice is who levels up and not what levels up. Multiple skill trees for each character would’ve really helped unlocked the full potential of this idea.
Each mission can be completed on a variety of difficulty levels, with the more challenging levels awarding you more Persistent Elite Creation (PEC) points. Tom Clancy fans will recognise the PEC system as how you can level up characters in other Tom Clancy franchise games, but it is handled a little differently in Shadow Wars. PEC points now unlock new single player skirmish missions and multiplayer maps. The skirmish and multiplayer maps aren’t quite as varied as the main campaign, but are a lot of fun in their own right and add a lot of content to the game. The multiplayer gets a particular thumbs up for its playability, as you only need one 3DS console between the two of you. Being a turn-based title you can just pass the system between a players, a serious boon considering how many people have yet to adopt the still infant 3DS. I was a bit disappointed with the lack of an option to battle over Wi-Fi however as, despite not many people having a 3DS yet, if you do encounter someone who also has a system and a copy of Shadow Wars there’s no option to battle with multiple systems.
I didn’t have particularly high hopes for Shadow Wars, but it has effortless smashed my expectations regardless. Its deep, engaging and easy to learn strategic gameplay make it one of the stand out 3DS launch titles. As long as you aren’t expecting a Homeric story, or another Rainbow Six style shooter, consider Shadow Wars a must purchase title for your new handheld.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS.
Deep and involving strategy gameplay, A vibrant cast of characters, Huge wealth of content, Only one 3DS needed for multiplayer, Nice and subtle 3D effects, Pleasant graphics, Easy to get into
Some needless stereotypes, Predictable plot, Limited skill progression, No option for Wi-Fi multiplayer
A deep and enjoyable turn-based strategy romp, with a refreshingly light-hearted tone for a Tom Clancy game